gameWomen’s basketball sweeps Oral Roberts on the season

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Jake Thompson

Junior forward Olivia Braun scores a cereer-high 22 points on Wednesday night.

Danny Frey

TULSA, Okla. — The Western Illinois women’s basketball team passed a tough road test on Wednesday night, defeating Oral Roberts 76-62 behind a career-high 22 points from Olivia Braun.

“I’m glad to get this game over with,” Gravina said. “Oral Roberts beat us in the conference tournament last year so it was nice to sweep them.”

Things started out slow for the Leathernecks, trailing 9-2 about three minutes into the first quarter thanks to left-wing three by Rachel Skalnik. Western finished out the opening quarter on a 12-0 run capped off by a Taylor Higginbotham layup with six seconds to go. After one quarter, the Leathernecks were ahead 14-9.

Oral Roberts stayed within striking distance down 23-19 halfway through the second quarter before Emily Clemens sank a corner trey. With 2:41 remaining in the first half, Maria Martianez turned and scored in the paint to cut the Leatherneck advantage to 28-25 late in the second.

“Oral Roberts killed us on the boards,” Gravina said. “But they also sent four of five people to the glass so that helped open up on transition game. It’s little bit of a give and take.”

Higginbotham immediately answered with a triple, followed a moment later by a Mallory Boyle layup in traffic. At halftime, Western led the host Golden Eagles 35-26.

Oral Roberts scored the first two baskets of the third quarter before Western settled back in. A Morgan Blumer lay-in with 4:44 left in the third quarter handed the Leathernecks a 46-34 lead.

The largest lead of the night at 13 points came after a Braun corner 3-pointer at the 2:18 mark in the third quarter. Braun stayed aggressive and closed out the third quarter with a buzzer beating layup on a hard drive. After three quarters, the Leathernecks were in control 53-42.

“My teammates kept telling me how open I was,” said junior forward Olivia Braun.

“They believed in me and my shot. Their faith in me really helped.”

A 7-0 Golden Eagle run started the fourth quarter before Braun ended it on a reverse layup with 6:07 to play.

One of the turning points of the game occurred with 4:36 left in regulation when Faith Ihim of Oral Roberts came down with the rebound and appeared to push her elbow out into Higginbotham. Ihim was whistled for her fourth personal foul, and Golden Eagle head coach Misti Cussen was assessed a technical foul for arguing after the call. Following the media timeout, Clemens buried both of the foul shots, pushing Western ahead 61-54.

“It’s a tough play,” Gravina said. “I think it’s the right call but it felt like a such a momentum shifter. Especially since that’s when they we’re making a run. We did a really good job tonight at the free throw line.”

Clemens and company had more free throws left in them down the stretch to seal off the 76-62 road win inside the Mabee Center.

“We got a lot of steals towards the end,” Braun said. “We knew we had to rebound as much as we can and play more aggressive.”

In addition to the 22 points, Braun snagged nine rebounds and recorded three blocks. Clemens scored 21 points as she distributed four assists while Higginbotham hit timely shots for a total of 19 points.

Mayberry paced the Golden Eagles with 21 points of her own. Inside, Martianez scored 18 while grabbing seven boards and Skalnik dished out a game-high seven assists.

The Leathernecks return home to Western Hall for their Think Pink game against Omaha at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday afternoon.

“Omaha should have beat us at their place,” Gravina said. “We can go into that game acting like we lost at their place while trying to figure out what we need to do to get better and get a win.”

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